Something Liberals and Conservatives Can Agree On! (Common Sense Criminal Justice Reform)

by Frank Knaack, Director of Public Policy and Communications

The criminal justice reform movement has gained some new and important allies!

“As conservatives with backgrounds in law enforcement, we embraced the orthodoxy that more incarceration invariably meant less crime, no matter the offense or the danger posed by its perpetrator.  But crime rates have been falling since the early 1990s, and a growing body of research combined with the compelling results of reforms in many states prove it is time to adjust our approach.”

Those are the words authored by former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and former Assistant U.S. Attorney General Deborah Daniels in a recent Washington Post op ed. We couldn’t agree more!

As the authors note, “states that have cut their imprisonment rates (coupled with other reforms) have experienced a greater crime drop than those that increased incarceration.”  In addition to the public safety benefits, these smart on crime reforms also save taxpayers millions of dollars.  For example, Kentucky has saved more than $29 million since instituting a mandatory reentry supervision program in 2011 that reduces an inmate’s prison term but also requires community monitoring upon release.  And, as Mr. Cuccinelli and Ms. Daniels wrote, individuals who completed the program “were 30 percent less likely to return to prison for a new crime than inmates released before the program took effect.”

Virginia is ripe for criminal justice reform.  The Commonwealth has seen its incarceration rate increase 735% since the 1970s.  To make matters worse, “[s]tates like South Carolina, Texas, New York and Maryland have seen their incarceration rates decline and seen their violent crime rates decline as much or more than the Commonwealth, during a time when Virginia’s incarceration rate rose.”

It’s time for Virginia’s criminal justice policies and practices to be evidenced-based – and the evidence is clear.  A policy of “lock’em up and throw away the key” drives costs up without driving crime down.  It discards people without regard to the waste of resources, human or financial.  As Mr. Cuccinelli and Ms. Daniels concluded:

“Much of the talk about such reforms highlights their fiscal payoff, and we’re all for saving taxpayer dollars.  But as conservatives, we also applaud such efforts because they reflect an evidence-driven approach that values results, not imprisonment for imprisonment’s sake.

Let’s resist our old incarceration reflex and support a rational system anchored in the knowledge, experience and values of today. Let’s preserve families, restore victims, help willing offenders turn their lives around and keep the public safe.”

These words should resonate with Virginia legislators and taxpayers across the political spectrum. It’s time to join hands across political and legislative divides and bring smart, evidence-based reforms to our criminal justice system.

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